What you need to know about spousal open work permits

Julia Hornstein
Published: October 10, 2023

Spouses, common law and conjugal partners of Canadian citizens or permanent residents can get an open work permit while their sponsorship application for permanent residence is being processed.

Sponsor your family for Canadian immigration

The benefit of a spousal open work permit is that sponsored individuals can work for almost any employer in Canada and financially support themselves and their family during the application process.

Spouses, partners and dependents of permanent residents, citizens, temporary workers, and students already in Canada are eligible for an open work permit. This is actually a new measure that was announced by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) in May of 2023.

Previously, open work permits were only available to applicants through inland sponsorship, or those who were already living in Canada on a Temporary Residence Visa (TRV).

IRCC aims to process applications submitted through the spousal sponsorship program within 12 months.

What is spousal sponsorship?

Spousal sponsorship is an important part of Canada’s immigration system. If you are a Canadian permanent resident, you can sponsor your spouse, common law, or conjugal partner so they can obtain Canadian permanent residence.

In order to sponsor, you and your foreign spouse or partner will have to prove that you are in an authentic relationship that qualifies under one of the three following categories:

  • Spouse: you are legally married;
  • Common-law partner: you live or have lived with your partner for at least 12 consecutive months in a marriage-like relationship;
  • Conjugal partner: you must have been in a continuous and committed relationship for a period of at least 12 months but have had significant obstacles that prevent you from residing with one another (such as cultural, religious or immigration barriers).

Sponsorship of a spouse or partner involves the commitment to provide financial support to the sponsored person, including any dependent children. As a sponsor, you will be required to sign an undertaking that promises to provide for the basic needs of the sponsored person.

These basic needs include:

  • Housing, including utility bills;
  • Food and personal hygiene products;
  • Clothing and other items necessary for daily living;
  • Medical expenses not covered by public health insurance, such as dental and eye care.

The length of the undertaking is 3 years from the day your spouse, common-law or conjugal partner becomes a permanent resident.

What are the eligibility criteria for a spousal open work permit?

In order to be considered for an open work permit, the candidate must:

  • Be a principal applicant who has submitted a permanent residence application under the Spouse or Common-Law Partner in Canada Class; or, as a spouse, common-law or conjugal partner under the family class that has been accepted for processing by IRCC after meeting a completeness check, and that has not been refused or withdrawn.
  • Have submitted a work permit application where the duration of the work permit requested is for a maximum of two years.
  • Is the subject of a sponsorship application submitted by their Canadian citizen or permanent resident spouse, common-law or conjugal partner.
  • Have the same residential address as their sponsor in Canada at the time of the application.
  • Have a valid temporary resident status in Canada or is eligible for and has applied for the restoration of their status.
  • The applicant and the sponsor must meet all eligibility requirements under spousal or common-law partner sponsorship.

Canada’s commitment to family reunification

The introduction of open work permits for outland spousal sponsorship in May came along with other family reunification measures by IRCC such as:

  • Faster temporary resident visa (TRV) processing times for spousal applicants
  • New and dedicated processing tools for spousal TRV applicants
  • Open work permit extensions for open work permit holders expiring between August 1st and the end of 2023

Sean Fraser, the immigration minister at the time of the announcement of these measured, said that IRCC is committed to reuniting families more efficiently and allowing them to work and support themselves once in Canada. He said by doing so, Canada is helping newcomers achieve their true potential, while also strengthening Canada’s economy.

Sponsor your family for Canadian immigration

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